The Indians lost to the Rangers last night, but not without putting up a valiant fight. Trailing by four in the bottom of the ninth, the Indians loaded the bases and sent Michael Brantley to the plate. Two outs flashed on the scoreboard. Brantley quickly fell in the hole 0-2. Then, Rangers relief pitcher and future Young Avenger Keone Kela left a breaking ball over the center of the plate.
As the ball approached, I can imagine Brantley quietly going through a checklist of things he needs to do. Remember the old commercial with Ken Griffey Jr, where he wonders if he left the stove on and then sees a teammate reaching for his soda (not pop, get over it), so he decided to hit a foul ball at his head? It’s like that, except Brantley is thinking, how in the hell am I finally healthy and now the rest of my teammates forgot how to hit, and I wonder who is going to blow this game once I tie it up here.
Even Brantley’s swing here evokes a bit of Griffey. The stride, the patience when he recognizes the breaking ball, the swing plane, and even the one-armed finish. Everything about the swing is elegant.... except, well, have you ever noticed what Brantley does with his mouth while he’s loading for a swing?
Here he is while the pitcher begins the windup:
Selfless, cold, and composed. Ready to destroy any pitch in the strike zone. Then, moments later, his face reaches its final form.
Both of these pictures are from last night, and it’s a little hard to tell, but Brantley is... kind of biting his tongue? Or at the very least, letting it slip through his teeth in some kind of incomplete homage to another athletic Michael. If you think this is just a one-off, or only happens in intense situations, then please examine the following photograph, originally taken by Chuck Crowe of the Plain Dealer in 2011.
It’s the god damn best thing I’ve ever seen. It’s just a suggestion, Michael, and you don’t have to take it, but please name your autobiography “Derping for Dongs”. Trust me, there isn’t any judgement or (serious) teasing going on here; I’m pretty sure I make the same face when I sell a Zebra printer, which is dozens of orders of magnitude less awesome than a game-tying grand slam. It also goes without saying that you can make whatever god damn face you want if it leads to grand slams. Just know that we have substantial evidence to counter the claim, “I don’t do that tongue thing.”
The celebration after he touches home plate and returns to the dugout is equally excellent.
A fine, gentlemanly congratulations from Jason Kipnis followed by a firm handshake is in order, of course. I love that Bradley Zimmer looks so, so eager to congratulate him, but patiently waits for the veterans to have their moment before slapping the beejezus out of Brantley’s helmet. Lindor gives him a nice, welcoming handshake before yelling some encouragement as he walks away.
Brantley hits Edwin, Yonder, and many more on his way into the dugout.
And, thank goodness, he doesn’t miss Tito. When I saw it the first time I was sure that he never saw the skipper offer a first bump, and he would stroll into the dugout leaving Francona hanging. One silent tear would roll down the skipper’s face. A rift would open between the two, never to be healed, ending when Brantley is inexplicably traded to the Mets, who then go on to win the World Series.
Thank you from all of us, Michael, for completing that fist bump. Nobody wants the Mets to win.
Did the Indians go on to win this one? No. Nick Goody gave up home runs on back-to-back fastballs in extra innings after this rally. I don’t care - Michael Brantley is approaching his old level of effectiveness, and we should celebrate that his first career grand slam came in the exact scenario we all mumbled to ourselves in the back yard before lobbing a tennis ball up to ourselves.